Idealog - February 2007
Don't Go There
Posting first appeared on 22 June '06 on www.westwood232.blogspot.com
"Don't Go There" is the title of a UK Guardian newspaper feature on tourist attractions in Britain. Taking its cue from the new Rough Guide to Britain it lets a dozen journalists have a moan about their least favourite attraction and then invites readers to join in. Some of the entries are thoughtful, like Martin Wainwright's complaint about Haworth, overrun by tourists who look as if they don't have the faintest idea why they're there, except that they thought everyone else was going so they shouldn't miss out. Steven Morris on the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth, Wales, sums it up as being about mud and guilt. I thought it a kind of 'muddle as built', a strange concoction of ideas only half thought through, and with a poor sense of purpose.
But what to make of Emily Wilson's bizarre view of the Eden Project (pictured)? "an IKEA-style car park" (I wish our Leeds branch was anything like as good) ... "not as good as a garden centre because you can't buy everything you see" ... "lots of flowerbeds whichever way you look" ... and "just greenhouses". She wonders "how Cornwall gets away with promoting the place as a world-class tourist attraction". How many similar botanical gardens have you seen round the world, Emily? If you really expected a serious botanical project to be a cross between Trago Mills and a Wyevale Garden Centre, then you certainly failed to do your journalistic homework.
It's interesting that nine - maybe ten if the London Eye is included - of the twelve attractions are of a kind which set out to communicate some kind of message about subjects like art (The Tate), history (The Tales of Robin Hood), some literary sisters (Haworth and its Parsonage), technology (Machynlleth) or botany (The Eden Project). Several complain about the cost. If someone enjoys a visit then the cost is more likely to be acceptable. If they don't enjoy the show, it's either because the show was bad or the visitor chose something unsuitable for their day out. Having been twice with a grandchild living in nearby Plymouth I can report brilliant days out which led to the said child's mum buying a season ticket and returning several times. More than that, the seven year-old was inspired to see if he could set out a 'nature walk' in his local woodland.
The problem with Machynlleth when I went - admittedly some years ago - was that it appeared to limit its efforts to doing alternative things without clearly showing why this was relevant to everybody's life. There was virtually nothing given for free or available to buy that would inspire the visitors to run their lives differently in some way. The awful Earth Centre near Doncaster was worse. It lacked a sense of purpose. The people who set it up seemed to take for granted that the public would understand why it had its strange collection of displays and why it was developing in the way it was doing. Just why was it relevant to have a Mongolian-style yurt in this bit of South Yorkshire? Colleagues who went to the opening ceremony said that visitors were wandering around bemused.
A good tourist attraction can't afford that. There's bound to be a journalist around somewhere.
Is This As Far As Space Tourism Will Go?
It always seemed to me that one of the dafter phrases to come out of the TV set was from the opening of Star Trek when somebody intoned: "Space: the final frontier". When the enormity of what is Out There sinks in with mind-boggling wonder, the inappropriateness of that phrase out-boggles it. Crossing from Earth atmosphere into the void is just the first of an infinity of frontiers. And I suspect Earth-based humanity will cross very, very few of them.
Gene Roddenberry's use of the phrase echoes back to the deeply-embedded American concept of the frontier which was effectively sited at the Jamestown Settlement of 1607 and gradually hot pushed across the continent to California and then leapt the Pacific to Hawaii and Canada to Alaska. Having nowhere else to go (forgetting for the moment the failed, possibly 'imperial', adventures in Cuba and Vietnam of 1962 and 1974) it looked as though Star Trek was pitched at getting Americans to take up a different challenge - the outward urge towards the planets and star systems beyond. While the stories have apparently declined in popularity in recent years their long-lasting achievement of multiculturalism, growing gender equality and xenophilia must always remain.
They might also have helped to engender the popular enthusiasm for so-called space tourism. Being able to ascend from the bounds of Earth into the heavens has long been a human desire with both religious and secular connotations. Jules Verne, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Hampson, Charles Chilton, A E van Vogt and Eric Frank Russell were just some of the European and American writers who inspired modern dreams of space travel. Now that tourists have followed in the footsteps of explorers and adventurers around the globe so effectively that few places are left to pioneer the package tour, it's logical, captain, as Mr Spock might say, to want to be fired into space for your next exciting weekend break.
On the other hand, all present space tourist projects bear little comparison with the global tourist of the last century. They look much more like the equivalent of a trip out on the briny and back from a nineteenth-century seaside resort. The plans of companies like Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and Starchaser only offer a few minutes on the edge of space in weightless conditions and with a view of the Earth's curving outline below, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. To date, four passengers have been carried to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere by Russian Soyuz rockets, three of whom paid $20 million each. The price might come down in due course: the travellers always will, after just a few effective minutes up there.
Not until people can transfer to a space station for days at a time, or land on the moon, can we really say that space tourism has begun. A tourist usually spends at least twenty-four hours away from his or her usual place of residence. A short journey out is merely an excursion.
I have bet my students that only the super-rich will land on a space station, or the moon, by 2050. If many more are doing it, I'll buy the class a round of drinks. If they can find me.
Below: The 'Coronia' prepares to leave Scarborough for a trip round the bay, probably boldly going, for most of the folks on board.
Showcase - The Crystal Cathedral
Cathedrals, like most other religious buildings, are showcases. They employ distinctive architecture and are built high in order to announce their presence visually over a large area. Spires, towers and domes are frequent characteristics. In many cities secular donors paid for particularly tall buildings, sometimes vying with rival donors to go higher and better at showing off their religious commitment.
Even the television age can contribute. The so-called 'Crystal Cathedral' in Los Angeles is not the seat of a bishop and so the word 'cathedral' is a misnomer. It is part of the Reformed Church in America and one of those religious centres which operate not only as a meeting place but as a base for regular television performances. The chancel can hold 3,000 worshippers but the main weekly service, the Hour of Power, is designed to be televised around the globe. In addition a comprehensive web site serves the church's activities and it can be used to obtain video- and podcasts of services, while a sales page supplies printed and other media.
The cathedral was designed by Philip Johnson, a foremost architect whose other works include the AT&T Building (now known as the Sony Building) and the Seagram Building in Manhattan. It opened in 1980 and is situated in Garden Grove, Los Angeles. Around the cathedral are other features adding to the showcase nature, including an eagle and waterfall construction celebrating the American bird symbol and a series of sculptures about the life of Jesus, as shown in the photographs. Another of these, the Burning Bush, has biblical figures represented and a 'bush' made of metal tubing with propane flames permanently lit at the end of the branches.
The Crystal Cathedral is only one of many skyscraping buildings in Los Angeles, but still stands as a reminder of the importance to humans of their need to dominate the surrounding landscapes in a physical way in order to function most effectively.
New books on tourism
Richard Sharpley is Professor of Tourism and Head of the Department of Tourism and Recreation at the University of Lincoln, UK. His books are growing in number and this latest takes a fresh approach to tourism studies. It is in the Sage Course Companions Series and blends a discussion of key tourism concepts with suggestions on how to study them. Unlike most text books which give subject information and then a few ideas on what to study in relation to them, this book merges knowledge and how to study in a most useful way. Having introduced it to my students I have already had very positive comments about its helpful nature. A book of this length and scope can only devote seven or eight pages to each topic (ranging across subjects like Air Transport to Urban Tourism) but those pages come close to what good classroom teaching ought to be, and what in universities is often lacking. There are references to concepts, authors and what to do and not to do in studying them. Highly recommended for those coming to diploma or degree studies in tourism for the first time.
Sharpley, R (2006) Travel and Tourism, London, Sage
ISBN 13 978 1 4129 2295 1 (pbk)
"Turizm" is apparently the way the Russians pronounce 'tourism'. Gorsuch and Koenker have edited a collection of 14 historical studies of tourism in eastern Europe over the last century which add a whole new dimension to the subject. Coming not far behind works such as Rudy Koshar's 'German Travel Cultures' and John Walton's editing of 'Histories of Tourism', the book moves our perspectives well away from the usual British standpoint, to very good effect. Chapters deal with several countries - Russia, Latvia, Hungary etc - and periods, from pre-First world War Russia to the 1960s and beyond. Eastern European states often used tourist visits as propaganda - the importance of tourism in shaping attitudes comes out strongly in these pages.
Gorsuch, A and Koenker, D (eds)(2006) Turizm: The Russian and East European Tourist Under Capitalism and Socialism, Ithaca, Cornell University Press
ISBN 978-0-8014-7328-9 pbk
There are more books appearing from Australia about tourism. As with 'Turizm' above this is opening up a welcome new dimension, this time from the southern hemisphere. "Tourism Planning and Policy" is an excellent addition from the John Wiley list. While there is much material from Australia there are also some from other countries. Courses with international slants - and what is tourism without an global view? - will benefit. Introductory chapters touch on some more abstract theories about government and society. Later ones get in to practical applications and cases studies. There is even a section on local government, which, though still only introductory in scope, still points towards the crucial role of local-level democratic processes. Local community control of tourism planning is essential, especially in less developed areas. This book moves the spotlight a little that way across the stage. While less useful as a source book on UK or US planning, this is going to be highly useful in given a different set of viewpoints. The price, like several other of the main tourism text books, is medium-high.
Dredge, D and Jenkins, J (2007) Tourism Planning and Policy, Milton Qsld, John Wiley and Sons(Australia) Ltd.
ISBN 9 7804 7080 7767 pbk
Dark Tourism? - Undercliffe Cemetery
Photographed earlier today, Bradford's Victorian company cemetery looks to be .... well, full of life. Rescued from decay and partial destruction, it has been restored and is again an active place of burial for the city's people. The great Victorian monuments stand proudly alongside newly-cleared pathways, once again dominating the burial ground with columns, urns, angels and gothic spires. But there are shining marble stones with gold-leaf lettering and brightly-coloured flowers in the new areas where burials have recommenced. Within a short distance of each other the opulent tombs of the Behrens and Illingworth families have been joined by the smaller graves of children, parents who died young and much-loved grandparents. The normal business of the cemetery has therefore been resumed, a few hundred internments having been completed since compulsory purchase and management by a charity returned Undercliffe to its historic function. And that is to record the brief lives of those who are buried their for posterity - lives that in some small way live on.
Showcase - The Louvre
The Musee du Louvre is a showcase in several different ways. It is primarily an art gallery with over 200,000 works in its care, a very large number being on show. It is a former French royal palace on the site of a castle which guarded the city from 1190 onwards, the oldest part of the existing building dating from 1535. The Museum also occupies one end of Le Grand Axe, the primary city planning axis of modern Paris which runs out through the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe to La Grande Arche of La Defense. As such it is part of the showcase nature of the whole city as a national and international centre of huge importance.
The Louvre is easily one of the world's greatest tourist attractions in terms of numbers as it takes in over 8 million visitors annually. In quality-tourism terms it is staggeringly successful. Thanks to its size, its vast collection (not always obtained in ways which we would admire) and the communication philosophy which drives it, the Museum has an almost overpowering impact. Some people regard it as a pompous, overbearing monument to the acquisitive urge of one of its greatest founders, Napolean Bonaparte. On the other hand, given that it exists as created in the 1790s under a very different set of values, the Louvre collections are made accessible in ways both admirable and
The exhibits can be viewed in the galleries 'for real', in reproductions ranging from postcards to books, and online via a web site showing 30,000 items. Besides the usual gallery information media, both printed and aural, there are talks and teaching sessions in which schoolchildren can occupy part of an area and be taught by a specialist.
It was an early decision in the Museum's history that established it as a leader in the democratisation of culture. From 1795 the curators of the collection began to add small text captions below each painting and sculpture to explain their significance. This pioneering interpretation work was supported by making an inexpensive catalogue and guide available. Free access by right was given, making it a people's museum. While the curatorial costs have forced out the free entrance to the galleries, the online access from armchairs around the world is free and continues the tradition of the founders.
A Class Act
Posting first appeared on www.westwood232.blogspot.com on 26 May '06
This Dutch boy and his grandparents were experiencing what teaching was like around 1900. The scene was last April in the Zuider Zee Open Air Museum in the Netherlands, at Enkhuizen. It might have been a geography lesson about the former colonies of the Dutch East Indies and the wealth from spices that flowed back to Europe. The classroom is pretty authentic to the date of 1900, the people are modern, the teaching style a suggestion of what it might have been like. It's an exercise which helps visitors get closer to the past and they will understand what some of the differences would be between their play-acting and the real thing. Is it heritage-industry fakery or a piece of participatory educational theatre? As in Wigan Pier's Victorian classroom it stimulates more learning, by doing and by being, than a book or a lecture can. I bet he tells his grandchildren about it like his grandparents told him.
First Impressions Count
First posted on www.westwood232.blogspot.com on 27 May 06
The motel leaflet doesn't give an impression of competence with such a basic spelling error. It was found a few years ago on a service station display - alongside a corrected version which the company had issued. Unfortunately the TIC manager failed to throw away the original. I once failed to spot a spelling error in a magazine advert until the very last moment, and had to get the printer to make a costly change. It had read "Amenitities and Recreation Dept".
The car wash sign was photographed today. The machine might be technically perfect but is the company's management in decline? Some years back a student politely pointed out that I was using the single-n spelling myself. Customers judge suppliers and operators very quickly when it comes to judging competence. It's easy to make a mistake - we all do it - and we all risk losing customers when we do.
Posting originally appeared on www.westwood232.blogspot.com on 31 May '06
Finding a couple of post-war stamps brought back the pleasant memory of a brief period of collecting. These little gems were works of art in themselves and if you were lucky enough to have them arrive attached to an envelope, they heralded some exotic message from distant lands. It was a form of idle escapism to dream of places in the Caribbean or the Pacific, some sun-kissed, palm-tree'd place like I had read about in J M Ballantyne's The Coral Island. The thought never occurred to me that, just as in that book, these places could have a darker side.
Each tiny label was beautifully coloured and delicately printed. It was like looking at a theatre stage at a pantomime in which some human drama was held safely with a proscenium arch, here the framing of the picture with the monarch's head to reassure us that all was well because the country shown was part of the war-winning British Empire. Thank goodness that lot has gone. Winning wars brought a culture of looking down on foreign people and their ways. With an ability, at least for fortunate folk, to travel abroad and see for ourselves what these places are like, and the opportunity for most of us to meet their peoples who travel to Britain, we have discovered the real delight of the world.
Canaletto in Venice Exhibition
Originally posted on 29 April '06 on www.westwood232.blogspot.com and here slightly edited as a result
[The Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery in London was held in 2006]
Fifty paintings and 150 drawings made by Canaletto in the 18th century for the British Consul in Venice, Sir Joseph Smith, were acquired by King George III. Visiting it was like seeing a show within a show. The theatrical ambience of the Queens Gallery, part of Buckingham Palace, was one. The beautiful interior setting contrasts was the rather drab formality of the secure, windowless classical-style Palace annexe. The staff at the exhibition were very friendly, polite and helpful. The galleries are of the highest quality - as they should be - and the exhibits stunning. Besides the Canalettos there are other paintings, such as Winterhalther's huge prtrait of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with their children in the 1840s. In a side room glass case is the diamond tiara worn by the present Queen in her portrait on postage stamps. It made an everyday image connect with the reality of the treasure.
The exhibition, and the accompanying guide by Martin Clayton called 'Canaletto in Venice' illustrated not just the artistic skills of a man who could draw beautiful straight lines free hand, but the way in which he manipulated reality to enhance the pictorial experience. Of course, all artists do, when they select and interpret people and places for their canvases. What seems surprising about Canaletto's works is the ways in which at the same time they appear accurate, representational art, and are yet products of propaganda. The introduction to the exhibition points out how the artist defined Venice for the world. The captions to the works comment on how he altered perspectives, changed relationships and proportions, added and subtracted buildings and architectural details and even - quite openly, in drawings called capriccios, brought together unrelated parts of the Italian landscape to create attractive and impressive vistas.
The paintings are not very large - many somewhere about 50 by 80 centimetres - and at first sight they have almost a photographic quality. But since the painter does select, arrange and express shape and form according to his or her own interpretation, the outcomes are effectively propagandist. The lesson for the tourist is to take the promotional material for your chosen destination with a large pinch of salt, and wait until you go when you can do what only tourism allows you to do - see for yourself.
Hidden History - Serpent Mound
Near the Ohio River and in the state of that name is Serpent Mound. It consists of an effigy of a serpent apparently about to close its mouth on a large egg. The serpent is over 1,300 feet long, twisting about the grassy site. It's not very high - between 1 and 3 feet. The Ohio Historical Society looks after the site, which was saved from being ploughed or built over in 1886 when Frederick Ward Putnam raised money to purchase the land. Near to one end of the serpent a steel tower has been erected (as in the picture above) to let visitors see the shape properly liad out in front of them.
No-one knows for sure who built the mound or why. Some think it is connected with Native American stories of a supernatural animal, others that it indicates astronomical positions. Maybe the serpent with the 'egg' at one end represents a comet with a long tail - radio-carbon dating to 1070 AD might suggest a link with Halley's Comet in 1066.
Places such as Serpent Mound, little visited by the mass of tourists to and around the United States, ought to be better known. There is a European view that North America has little history. Even white-settled America is rich in heritage - it's four hundred years this year since Jamestown became the first permanent settlement - and there is plenty to be seen, as the excellent Smithsonian Guides to Historic America portray. That span of history is brief compared to the native heritage which goes way back into prehistoric times. There are museums which display some of that past: the Field Museum in Chicago is described on another page of this web site. On the whole, however, the sheer range and diversity of Native American culture is poorly served. At least there are many books now dealing with this hugely important subject. There ought to be more tourism aimed at revealing to visitors this rich Americana and what it has to offer today.
A Tourist Trail in Appalachia
Posting originally appeared on www.westwood232.blogspot.com on 17 July 06
Seventy years ago, work was starting on the Blue Ridge Parkway through the Appalachians. Partly tourist route and partly work creation programme, the 469-mile road links hundreds of places of interest while maintaining its character as an environmentally-sensitive forest route.
The road was primarily a way to get from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. Ideas had existed for such a link as early as 1909, but it was the Great Depression that led to its happening. In charge of designing the route was Stanley Abbott, and landscape architect who had been influenced by Frederick Law Olmstead who designed New York's Central Park and the grounds of Biltmore House near the Parkway route in North Carolina. The use of a landscape architect rather than a highway engineer reflected the wish to make the road fit the landscape.
Work began in 1935. The Civilian Conservation Corp, one of President F D Roosevelt's answers to the depression, worked on several sections simultaneously. After World War II, during which the CCC was disbanded, construction was slower, but the completed sections were well used by the new generation of car owners anxious to enjoy the Appalachians. The last project was Linn Cove Viaduct, a complicated double-S curve which was only possible as computers were developed to tackle difficult engineering designs. Rather than blast a roadway into the side of Grandfather Mountain, an ecologically-important area, the road was elevated on the viaduct.
Besides wilderness zones, the Blue Ridge Parkway gives quick access to several historic houses, like Biltmore and the Moses Cone house, and nearby towns and has many small parking areas with panoramic views. In the photo a visitor examines an information panel at a folk art centre; an interpretive panel at one of dozens of good viewpoints; a general view on a warm, misty day in summer.
Tourist Traces - Bradford (and a touch of Conisbrough)
An expanded version of a posting which first appeared on 14 July 07 on www.westwood232.blogspot.com
On the left two quite dull photos, really. Except that they show evidence of recent history that is likely to disappear some day, like a lot of other bits of evidence dotted around. They are also examples of the archaeology of tourism, though the 'archaeo' bit refers to no more than eleven years. It's also a lesson in tourism and politics.
This little building is next to the Bradford-Halifax railway line at Low Moor. Though you probably can't read it, the white-on-blue sign above the left-of-centre door says 'Auditorium'. Just to the left of that is a roadway with poles at intervals along the edges, each tilted back slightly.
These are some of the only signs left of a 'working museum' called Transperience that was devoted to transport. Like the Earth Centre near Conisborough (right hand photo) and the National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield, it was a failed, new, multi-million pound attraction. The auditorium was for showing audiovisual presentations about transport. The roadway carried trams and road vehicles. In the background of the photo are some modern service sheds: back there was the entrance to the museum with a shop and ticketing area. Vehicles of one kind or another could take people through the long, narrow and curving site to see more transport exhibits and workshops.
Transperience had grown out of an excellent collection of transport items which were stored for many years by volunteers of the West Yorkshire Transport Museum Society in a former tram shed at Saltaire, Bradford. Plans had been brought forward or allowed to slide back for some years without a permanent museum being established where the best examples could be set to work. In 1974, however, local government reorganisation split the former West Riding County Council into two, West and South Yorkshire County Councils. West Yorkshire contained five new Metropolitan Districts. These five operated most of the public-sector attractions in the County, but both the Districts and the County had within their remits the creation of tourism.
West Yorkshire established the first Tourist Information Centre in Hebden Bridge, and worked to establish a regional park called the South Pennines which straddled former Lancashire and Yorkshire districts. Working with local authorities at District level, plus a series of civic trust groups and an important multi-purpose community venture called Pennine Heritage, it was the leading public body in promoting tourism in the area between the Manchester and Yorkshire conurbations.
It also worked on plans for a new attraction in each West Yorkshire District. In Bradford this was to be a transport operation running down the Spen Valley - that had been the dream of volunteers building the collection at Saltaire. Using its resources and contacts, West Yorkshire promoted a different scheme, on a much smaller site between the Halifax-Bradford railway line and the M606. In theory it would be easy to access by road and in the long term might gain a new station to service the museum. A Trust was set up and £11.5m spent on a 'discovery park'.
It opened in May 1995 with predictions of 200,000 in its first year. However, the exhibition areas were well spaced out - to get people using the passenger vehicles between them - which made it look deadly thin. The entrance area lacked the all-important feeling of excitement and there were too few vehicles overall on display to attract the enthusiasts. Apparently only £150,000 was set aside for publicity, to be used by a marketing manager appointed only six months before the opening.
This failure to prepare a marketing strategy from the start seems to have been a feature of the Earth Centre's problems in South Yorkshire, where efforts to establish a profile of the potential visitorship were still being made well after the Centre opened. A market research firm in the north was being asked to come up with answers after the first customers were going through the turnstiles. It was obvious that questions were being asked that should have been basic to the whole decision whether to have a project such as the Earth Centre or not. The photo shows a tourism conference visitor in September 2000 looking at a display. By that time the Centre was in serious trouble financially despite over £40m investment of public money. A pilot project opened in 1995 but the following summer New Scientist was asking if it was going "from green expo to white elephant". The scheme was rescued and opened fully in March 1999, but colleagues who attended the opening ceremony found it difficult to work out exactly what the Centre was trying to do. The attraction was failing to put over a clear message.
In Bradford back in the middle of 1996 less than 100,000 people had visited Transperience - partly, perhaps, because there was no public transport to the museum of public transport - you needed a car - and in 1998 it closed with debts of over £1m. An attempt to re-launch it, begun in 1997, had failed. A public auction had to be held to sell off museum items to try to recover the debts. The site itself was almost entirely cleared after a few years spent looking sadly and derelict, and trading-estate buildings erected. The auditorium was one of the few museum structures to remain.
What went wrong? Some said there were too few actual vehicles, too many supporting exhibits. Some said it looked woefully empty because of the layout. Others thought the wrong people had been brought in to run it, with too little museum experience. Too many key decisions appeared to have been rushed. Was one reason political? By the early 1990s the national government had decided to abolish Metropolitan County Councils like West Yorkshire. Skilled officers moved out when they saw that the end was nigh. There have been suggestions that the 1995 opening was decreed by the date for abolition of the County Council having been set for the following year - that West Yorkshire councillors wanted to see the museum opened as a monument to the County authority. Its Sowerby Bridge scheme in Calderdale was incomplete; the Leeds project by the County, Thwaites Mill, had opened but was struggling badly. The mining museum project for Wakefield was taking time. In due course each of these projects did succeed, in slightly different form in the case of Sowerby Bridge, but they were completed by the districts with help from charitable trusts or from commercial companies.
Conisbrough's Earth Centre was handed over to receivers in late 2004, staff having been made redundant and huge amounts of money lost. The site is being redeveloped for other uses. Sheffield's National Centre for Popular Music at least left a legacy of an unusual building - no longer a tourist attraction.
There are political lessons to be learned here and in the case of other prestige projects which had public money thrown at them, of which the ridiculous Millennium Dome fiasco became the climax. The lesson is not that the public sector should leave the development of attractions to commercial interests - far from it - but that the right people, with the right strategies, should be put in to run them, not prestige-and-vote-seeking politicians.
Holmfirth - A Tourist Town That Grew
Posting first appeared on 11 July 06 on www.westwood232.blogspot.com
For over thirty years the BBC TV sitcom Last of the Summer Wine has been filmed in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. Roy Clarke's series is based around the antics of a set of older characters who still maintain the flat cap and pinafore image of an earlier age. While Peter Sallis has been a member of the leading trio of males in the comedy since the start, others have come and gone as they grew older. Bill Owen, with his scruffy jacket and Wellington boots died some years ago but is still an icon, as shown by a dummy made up to look like him outside what appears as 'Sid's Cafe' in the show.
Holmfirth was a textile town long before the TV series made it world famous. Unusually, it was also a centre for the early British cinema thanks to the studios of Bamforth & Co, makers of silent comedies before the first world war, and extremely successful publishers of seaside postcards. Last of the Summer Wine made it a tourist attraction rather than a (fairly small) tourism supply centre. The first show was in 1973 and it has stayed popular ever since. It was only as visitors flocked in and a Tourist Information Centre opened that a museum to the story of Bamforth's postcard production was added. Then gift shops, cafes and guest houses began to flourish as they have in other tourist towns.
West Yorkshire has a trio of H's - Haworth, Hebden Bridge and Holmfirth, each with tourist shops, tourist attractions and tourist congestion. But what would have happened if tourism had not found its place here or in the others? Decline and decay? Some people might decry the growth of tourism in them - and for much of the year they are best avoided if you want to enjoy a quiet stroll around a Pennine town - but there were few alternatives on offer. Yes, they might have become dormitories for city dwellers, pushing up house prices, but then any boost to a town's economy has that effect. Holmfirth has at least avoided the Bronte-this and Bronte-that of Haworth. And is extensive enough to have avoided the claustrophobia of Hebden Bridge's steep streets forever channelling people back into the tourist crush.
Capsule Culture 2
Following on from the posting of 31 January 07 ...
Most people spend most of their time as tourists in a capsule. They drive in a car or coach to an airport or cruise liner base. They stay in a hotel for something like a third of their day, although if they're in an all-in resort it might be for 24 hours out of 24. Those who do go out take a taxi, catch a bus, use a car or ride a train. Sometimes a chair lift takes them over the resort, gardens or zoo. Has anyone researched just how many hours of a day are spent in an enclosure of some kind - even if it does have wheels or wings?
It's safer that way. Enclosed spaces have controlled microclimates and space for the comfort kit of life. The doors can be locked to keep out those people and animals you don't want to get in. Valuables like cameras, jewellery and other personal items are held secured.
Humans are used to it. Babies are carried in slings cuddled up to parents or are placed in baby buggies along with handy drinking bottles and supplies of tissues. Houses have gardens and back yards as private zones and cars to carry us out to the shops or school. These days, those school buildings have high fences round them; work places often employ security guards or reception staff to filter unwanted visitors. Public places might be watched by closed-circuit TV, police officers or community support wardens.
Venturing far afield is therefore easier in a group, with a guide, in a coach or plane. The problems of foreign currency, food supply and languages can be looked after by a paternal provider from the tour company. Buy the package! Travel in security and comfort!
But next time, cut the strings around you and explore the neighbourhood. Those people out there are just as nice as you are!
Salton City - A Tourist Town That Failed
Posting first appeared on www.westwood232.blogspot.com on 09 July 06
In the far south of California, close to the Mexican border, lies the Salton Sea. On its western edge is Salton City, a tourist destination which failed.The story of the Salton Sea begins in 1901 when the California Development Company began to dig irrigation ditches from the Colorado River into the Imperial Valley, an area of rich farming potential. Silting in the ditches led to the Company making a temporary canal from the river to increase the flow and flush out the silt. In 1905 floodwaters in the Colorado broke overwhelmed the canal and began to pour into the Salton Trough. This is an area well over a hundred miles long which had been occupied by other lakes in distant prehistoric times. By the time that the breach was closed two years later, the present inland Salton Sea had been formed, 35 miles long and up to 15 miles wide. It lies 227 feet below mean sea level.
The lake is fed by several rivers and creeks plus agricultural runoff in the Imperial, Coachella and Mexicali Valleys. At present evaporation - the only way out for water flowing in - maintains the Sea at a constant level. Areas of the lake soon became established with fish and a fishing industry. It also lies on the Pacific Flyway - a migratory route for birds - and has many species of wildlife living around it. Unfortunately, however, the lake is slowly increasing in salinity - now at a level 25% more than the Pacific, though far lower than places like the Great Salt Lake in Utah or the Dead Sea in the middle east.
In 1958 the M Penn Phillips Company began to lay out a planned community and tourist resort called Salton City. Roads and services were laid out and fire hydrants set up; some shops and restaurants opened, plus some houses and trailer homes. Postcards with views of the Sea were published. Salton City, however, never reached anything like its planned size - the fire hydrants were guarding empty plots of land. During the 1960s there were growing fears about rising salinity in the water. In 1961 the California Department of Fish and Game predicted the Sea would die as the salinity rose, casting a long shadow over the hopes for the new City. A book called Imperial Valley predicted the end of wildlife in the Salton Sea would happen by 1972. In 1986 a warning was made by the State of California about eating fish because of contamination by selenium.
The Sea has not died. It is still an important wetland and wildlife zone, but fears remain about rising salinity. On the water's edge at Salton City saline deposits encrust the banks and dead fish lie around. Like Ravenscar in Yorkshire, the subject of an earlier posting, Salton City is a reminder that not all tourist destinations can be successful.
The photos show a visitor photographing fish remains along the shore, and the abandoned Sundowner Bar Restaurant: both taken in 2000.
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(see 10 December blog page)